Jazz journalism & beyond weekend

Jazz journalists conferenced in New York City last weekend as arts presenters, National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters and musical showcases galore (including an audience-happy Winter Jazzfest and the debut of drummer Jack DeJohnette‘s hot new band) justified the very existence of the profession.

Writers, broadcasters and photographers were all over the annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference at the New York Hilton and Sheraton starting last Friday. Reporting registration at 4500, APAP was thick with over-populated panels, high velocity semi-business meetings and NEA head Rocco Landesman spinning off the conference theme “Risk. Opportunity. Now.” which he called a “Trifecta!,” leading to his paean to optimism and the payoff of his NEA motto, “Art Works.” 

Journalists watched as A.B. Spellman, former NEA jazz specialist, poet and author of the exemplary book Four Jazz Lives asked the 2010 NEA Jazz Masters — Muhal Richard Abrams, Kenny Barron, Bill Holman, Bobby Hutcherson, Yusef Lateef, Annie Ross and record producer George Avakian — for stories of their worst gigs and thoughts on club vs. concert venues. Journalists sought their own interviews and photo shoots with the masters and dozens of other players present, and also worked to connect with arts presenters from their own local turfs, to institute or strengthen relationships that could do well for both parties (and audiences, too) when they go back home. We also discussed among ourselves pressing issues: who we are, how we conduct business now, what are the new ways to get news out (and has jazz “news” changed due to technologies changes). I’ll create a more detailed report about these seminars and attendant workshops organized by the Jazz Journalists Association when more time’s available; watch this space.
But to mention three musical highlights of the past five days:
  • Darcy James Argue’s itchy, attitudinal, propulsive, raw and synchronized Secret Society big band, reprising the compositions on their much-lauded premiere recording Infernal Machines, opened the Winter Jazzfest extravaganza at (le) Poisson Rouge, largest and most central of five Greenwich Village clubs that coordinated to host more than 40 ensembles, scheduled to overlap, on Friday and Saturday nights. Bleecker Street was full of eager jazz fans of all ages, but mostly young, as music continued into the mornings’ wee hours and packed houses had listeners standing or stuck in lines out the doors. 
  • Alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw‘s louche jazz soul band at Zinc Bar, climaxing several sets organized by the hiply spirited production company Revive Da Live, reemphasized that jazz is a social music, suitable for energizing big fun parties even while its sounds can be appreciated for their smart as well as sensuous qualities.
  • Drummer-composer-melodica/keyboardist DeJohnette’s hot new quintet featuring altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa, micro-tonal guitar wiz Dave Fuiczynski, keyboardist George Colligan and electric bassist Jerome Harris performed pieces adapted from his well-remembered Special Edition repertoire and some new songs, too, at Birdland (not part of Winter Jazzfest). The powers of the players was palatable, the interaction they achieved was bracing and their potential as an ensemble is exciting to imagine. It’s a major treat to hear DeJohnette, whose jazz mastery during the past five decades should not be overlooked. He is subtle and dazzling, equally attuned to dynamics, timbre and rhythm. In this situation, as distinct from, say, his position in Keith Jarrett’s longstanding trio, DeJ cuts loose. 
I write now in preparation for more slew of NEA Jazz Masters activities, a concluding APAP town hall forum and a luncheon for 50 jazz journalists. What comes of these meetings is unclear ’til after the dust settles, but there’s talk of instituting a national Day of Jazz (promotional in the broadest sense, as for devoted fans every day is a jazz day), of inviting jazz journalists to hold panel discussions and audience talks frequently for audience development and enrichment at the venues of arts presenters (especially during April, which is formally Jazz Appreciation Month), of bringing together the artists and audiences of jazz and sophisticated contemporary compositional music with the understanding they overlap, if they aren’t completely one and the same. 
Talk is the mainstay of conferences and conventions, of course, and maybe none of this will come to pass. But getting so many people together to talk — even just talk! — about the music (if not during the music) is itself a bit of progress. Or maybe it’s simply exciting, and I take that in itself to be good.

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  1. says

    Thanks for the re-cap and can’t wait to hear your thoughts on what went down during the APAP meetings. I would add that the Clayton Brothers set at Dizzy’s with so many of the prior Jazz Masters in the room was special and John’s son Gerald on piano ripped it up.